Recipe: Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil

Recipe: Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

I learned this treatment for pasta from an old neighbor of mine who took his cooking very seriously and made even the simplest meal seem like a dinner party. Music gets changed, cocktails are poured, stories told; there's a lot of gesticulating.

But really, all there is to this dish is boiling the pasta, tossing the sauce ingredients into a metal bowl, then tossing in the drained pasta. It's a stress-free party dish, or even just your dinner tonight.

This pasta can be pulled together in as long as it takes the pasta to cook; between 9 and 13 minutes, depending on the shape you use. Because it is so simple and the uncooked sauce has so few ingredients, using the best-quality ingredients you can find makes a difference. Especially when it comes to the ricotta. If you can avoid the skim milk and commercially made versions, do. If you have time, you can even make your own.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

The pasta shapes that best complement this sauce are small-shaped pieces, like rotini, penne, fusilli, and gemelli; these shapes hold the sauce. Again, quality makes a big difference here. Now's a time to spring for something better than plain-wrap spaghetti. However, if it's all you have, you'll still be eating well.

Tester's Notes

Anything that involves ricotta I am on board for, so I was thrilled to finally give this recipe a try. It's as simple as you'd think it is, and that's what makes it so special. I was able to assemble everything in under 15 minutes and yet sitting down to a bowl of this pasta still felt special and a bit fancy.

Based on previous commenters, I did lower the amount of ricotta cheese so that the pasta was swimming in sauce and decreased the amount of olive oil to just a finishing drizzle, as the dish is plenty luxe and rich without the original couple of tablespoons. It's worth it to use good quality ricotta here, so try to seek out the best you can find. I also used Pecorino Romano cheese instead of Parmesan, which is a bit saltier and nuttier, and gave it gave the pasta a bit more dimension — though if all you have is Parmesan, this dish will still be great. Finally, I couldn't resist adding a pinch of red pepper flakes for a little heat to cut through the creaminess, but of course I left it optional, if you're not up for spice.

- Sheela, May 2018

Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil

Serves 6

  • 1 pound

    dry short pasta, such as gemelli, fusilli, penne, or rotini

  • 1 1/2 cups

    ricotta cheese, preferably freshly made

  • 1 cup

    freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

  • Juice and zest of one large lemon

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    Kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 cup

    loosely packed basil leaves, sliced into a chiffonade

  • Pinch red pepper flakes, optional

  • Good-quality olive oil, for serving

Set a pot of water to boil. When it boils, add a few teaspoons of salt and the pasta.

In a metal bowl wide enough to fit over the top of the pot, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, olive oil, juice and zest of lemon, salt, and black pepper. When there are about 2 minutes remaining in the pasta's cooking time, place the bowl over the pot and slowly stir the ricotta and other ingredients. You should see it loosening as it warms.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it, add it to the bowl of ricotta and mix well to evenly coat the pasta in the sauce. Add the basil and red pepper flakes, if using, toss, and serve immediately, finishing each serving with a drizzle of olive oil.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

This recipe has been updated — first published July 2008.

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